Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Four Virginians with a Tiple

Recordings from the days of 78 rpm phonographs continue to find their way to YouTube, where my latest discovery touches three issues that interest me: 
 Old time string band music from Virginia (where I've lived for the past decade);
 The "Martin tiple," a 10-string instrument I have been playing for a few years, related to the ukulele and South American instruments, made in America for half a century and used for a variety of musical styles; 
And the often racist minstrel-show roots of some of the old-time string band music repertoire. In this case, the latter is only present in the form of a fiddle tune title, without the original 1880s lyrics, which mocked a well-to-do gambler and ladies' man.

The "All Music" (http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-four-virginians-mn0001387068/biography) and "Martin Tiple" (http://martintiple.blogspot.com/2011/12/four-virginians.html) history blogs both have pages about the band in question, The Four Virginians, from the Danville area. They were active from 1925 to 1935 and reportedly recorded only six tunes, all for the Okeh record label.

Accompanied by a picture of the band, with the tiple used as a rhythm instrument, YouTube has five of the recordings: three square dance tunes with dance calls (one of them with a nineteenth-century minstrel show "coon song" title), and two sentimental songs.
You can hear the jangling treble sound of the tiple (not as high or clean as a bluegrass mandolin "chop") on most of the recordings. It plays full chords while the fiddle plays the melody and the two guitars play rhythm and bass runs. Unlike many old time string bands, the four Virginians did not include a mandolin, banjo or bass. 
"Two little lads"
"One is my mother"
"Promenade all"
"Swing your partner"
"New coon in town"

Jennings Leonard is identified as the tiple player by numerous websites, including a discography of historical records at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The other published sources identify the remaining band members as:
Fiddle – Richard Bigger
Guitar – Fred Richards
Vocals and Guitar – Elvin Bigger

Google search reveals several books that mention the band, including these:
Title one : Virginia's Blues, Country, and Gospel Records, 1902-1943: An Annotated Discography, by Kip Lornell
Title two : Linthead stomp: the creation of country music in the Piedmont South, by Patrick Huber
(The first draft of this post was made with an Android smartphone and its Blogger app. I should eventually get back to edit it and make the web links more attractive and functional.)